NEW: American Chuck Blazer says he took bribes in connection with World Cup bidding and TV rights
The federal government says he's a cooperating witness in the soccer corruption investigation
Blazer was a soccer executive for decades
For years, Chuck Blazer was one of the biggest names in U.S. soccer. He traveled the world, lived in swanky apartments, ate at the best restaurants and used offshore bank accounts.
He just wasn’t paying his taxes. He didn’t even file his forms.
Blazer was a FIFA executive committee member and at one point the No. 2 man in the soccer governing organization for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF.
He is now a key figure in a corruption scandal at the world soccer body: The man who went from raking in illicit millions to secretly recording executives talking about bribery and other graft.
A New York Times reporter found Blazer at a New York hospital last week. Blazer mouthed the words, “I can’t talk” from his room.
“We have no comment,” said Mary Mulligan, one of his attorneys.
An indictment unsealed on May 27 as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced charges against 14 other FIFA top figures described the level of Blazer’s ill-gotten millions.
Blazer had pleaded guilty in 2013 to conspiracy to commit racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, income tax evasion and failure to report foreign bank accounts, authorities said.
He had amassed $11 million in unreported income, said Richard Weber, director of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.
So he became a wire-wearing informant who provided documents and recordings of meetings with FIFA colleagues that hinted at not-so-kosher dealings, law enforcement officials said.
The New York Daily News, in a November article, details just how this soccer insider became a cooperating witness for the U.S. federal government using a keychain wired to record audio at the 2012 London Olympics.
According to the Daily News, on a November night in 2011, two men – one from the FBI and one from the IRS – tailed Blazer as he rode his motorized scooter along a Fifth Avenue sidewalk in Manhattan. They caught up with him and gave him his options.
Go to prison for tax evasion or help us out with our soccer corruption investigation.
“We can take you away in handcuffs now – or you can cooperate,” Blazer reportedly was told, according to the newspaper.
South Africa deal?
In 2004, Blazer and two co-conspirators worked a deal with the South African government and the country’s World Cup bid committee to get $10 million in exchange for votes to bring the 2010 finals to South Africa, the indictment says.
The South African Football Association called the allegations baseless and promised to challenge them. South Africa’s government has also denied paying any bribe.
The indictment says that in the end, the money came from funds from FIFA that should have gone to South Africa and Blazer ended up with more than $750,000 but not all of his promised $1 million, or 10%.
Court records released by federal prosecutors on June 3, a week after the indictment was unsealed, reveal that Blazer admitted back in November 2013 that he and other members of the FIFA executive committee took bribes between 2004 and 2011 and helped South Africa land the World Cup.
The 40-page court document is a transcript of Blazer’s appearance before a judge in the Eastern District of New York.
Blazer, who was on FIFA’s executive committee from 1997 to 2013, also describes facilitating a bribe in connection with the 1998 World Cup bidding process.
U.S. officials have said in another court document that the bribe that Blazer helped to negotiate was paid by Moroccan officials to an unnamed member of FIFA’s executive committee. Morocco’s bid for the Cup was unsuccessful. France was awarded the 1998 finals.
“During my association with FIFA and CONCACAF, among other things, I and others agreed that I or a co-conspirator would commit at least two acts of racketeering activity,” he says in the court document.
In the transcript, he reveals he has rectal cancer, coronary artery disease and diabetes, but says his cancer prognosis is good and he is holding up reasonably well, even though he uses a wheelchair.
‘Mr. 10 Percent’
BuzzFeed, in a June 2014, article, says Mr. 10 Percent was Blazer’s nickname. It reported that years ago, he signed a lucrative contract with CONCACAF that “entitled him to 10% – under his unilateral interpretation – of just about every penny the organization brought in.”
Blazer’s income really took off after the hugely successful 1994 World Cup in the United States.
The day after the finals ended, Blazer signed a new contract with the same 10% cut, according to a report by CONCACAF. But this time, CONCACAF said, the money went through an entity in the Cayman Islands.
CONCACAF, in the same report, found that the 10% cut that it contends contractually only should have applied to sponsorships and TV rights fees instead came off of every dime the organization took in. This included “match promotion proceeds from the sales of tournament match tickets, luxury suite rentals, parking, and venue concessions.”
Corruption allegations nothing new for him
Blazer, who is now 70, used his millions on good food and nice living. He even had a $6,000-a-month spot in New York’s Trump Tower for his cats, the Daily News reported.
CONCACAF notes that between 1996 and 2011, it paid well over $800,000 in rent for apartments “used by Blazer.”
He left CONCACAF in 2011 and FIFA in 2013, both times after controversy.
In May 2011, Blazer handed to FIFA a report accusing two of its most high-profile members – Jack Warner, who ran CONCACAF and was a FIFA vice president, and Mohamed bin Hammam, head of the Asian Football Confederation – of bribery at a Caribbean Football Union meeting early that month. (Warner was one of the 14 people indicted on May 27.)
Warner resigned, and bin Hammam is now banned for life by FIFA. Bin Hammam denied the allegations, and Blazer stepped down from CONCACAF five months after the report was issued.
FIFA suspended Blazer in May 2013 after an ethics committee found he probably had received at least $15 million in addition to other funds that were used to buy and rent luxury apartments. He left his position when his term ran out, and the FIFA investigation was called off.
What wasn’t known at the time was that he’d already been indicted in the United States on corruption charges, along with three other people.